There was a time when racing hard with the title contenders would have brought out the worst in Kyle Busch. But this time around, Busch put on a clinic of how to do it right. Busch had a top-three car, and when late-race cautions bunched up the field, he had a shot to race Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson for position — and he did it in the best possible way. He didn’t roll over and give either Chase driver a spot; instead, he raced them both with maximum effort, balancing that with controlled aggression. Busch didn’t race them checkers or wreckers; he raced them hard and clean.
During the pit stops for a lap 476 caution, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. stayed out while Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and the rest of the lead lap cars came in for two tires. Johnson restarted behind Keselowski and worked him over for four laps before taking the lead for good. In the end, Keselowski ended up about where he would have finished with tires, while some of the other top contenders on the day ended up falling back to unsatisfying results.
What a mess. That’s what several teams were left thinking after the wreckfest that was the Hollywood Casino 400. A track-record and season-high 14 cautions marred the racing over the course of the 400-mile event, caused by everything from a rash of blown tires, a couple of driver errors at the wrong time, a move made in anger, and a very slick repaved racetrack. “If people are wondering where all the cautions went, they moved to Kansas,” Brad Keselowski said at one point during the day, referencing complaints about a lack of yellow flags during several events this season.
Brad Keselowski ran out of gas, down the backstretch with 58 laps left, allowing Clint Bowyer to breeze by. That left the No. 15 team virtually unencumbered as they turned on the fuel mileage jets, put a Rip Van Winkle spell over the stands, and advanced to a shocking intermediate oval victory at Charlotte.
The caution flag flew for Matt Kenseth breaking a track bar mount on lap 310. The lead lap cars pitted and Brad Keselowski never visited pit road again, making his tank of fuel last 89 laps en route to his fifth win of the season and second of the Chase.
Sometimes those who have nothing to lose are the most dangerous of all. For most of the day on Sunday, it looked as though Kyle Busch, who failed to make the Chase this year, had the field covered at Dover. If the race hadn’t come down to fuel mileage, Busch would most likely have been the driver in Victory Lane. True to his take-no-prisoners style, Busch took the race lead from teammate Denny Hamlin and from there, cut nobody a break — not even Hamlin, who is very much in the title hunt. Leading 302 of 400 circuits, the only thing stopping Busch was that extra stop for gas, slipping him to a seventh-place finish when winner Brad Keselowski and others could go the distance.
Brad Keselowski took the lead after the final round of green flag pit stops and had a car that was simply better than everyone else for the final run to the checkered flag.
The Chase is on… and for 12 drivers that means the chance at standing at the pinnacle of NASCAR in November. For everyone else, unfortunately, it means toiling in relative anonymity for the next two months, especially when seven of the top-10 finishers in the race are in the Chase as was the case in Chicago. Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was not among them; but both of his teammates were. Kyle Busch and Joey Logano finished fourth and seventh, respectively, though neither received much recognition during a television broadcast that was clearly more concerned with the Chase contenders.
This one wasn’t over until the checkered flag was thrown. Wow.
Regan Smith finished a somewhat disappointing 18th on Sunday after having a shot to wind up much higher. However, about halfway through the race he restarted on the outside of the front row next to Brad Keselowski. After racing Keselowski hard through turn 1 and the South Chute, the two had contact in turn 2. There did not appear to be any malice in what happened, but both drivers never truly recovered.